Happy Monday, dear Internet friends, and welcome to a brand new edition of the Mailbag to help you start your week and break down everything that’s happening with our beloved Edmonton Oilers. This week we’re looking at the Oilers’ goals against, Darnell Nurse’s struggles, defensive rumours, and a whole lot more. If you’ve got got a question you’d like to ask, email it to me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.
Jun 6, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft reacts during the third period against the Colorado Avalanche in game four of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
1) David O. asks – After Woodcroft was promoted last year, the Oilers went on a great tear, with “attention to detail” being referenced a lot as they gave up 2.78 goals against per game. This year, it’s at 3.61 GAA. What are they doing so differently (and poorly) this year compared to the end of last year?
Robin Brownlee:
Sloppy defensive play and errors leading directly to goals, like we saw Saturday in the loss to Anaheim, have been an ongoing problem. Jack Campbell hasn’t been as good as expected to start the season either.
Jason Gregor:
They are giving up way too much off the rush, which they didn’t do last year. And right now their ability to gift goals would make Santa Claus jealous.
Cam Lewis:
On the blueline, it looks like everyone is playing one spot higher than they should be. It isn’t all on the defencemen, either, as the forwards haven’t played as well defensively down the stretch as they did last year. Jack Campbell also hasn’t been as good as either Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen were in the final few months of last season.
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Tyler Yaremchuk:
I think it’s partially the penalty kill falling apart and partially the blueline just not having the same jump. I’m not sure what can be done to fix it, other than a big trade, but Dave Manson has to find some way to make this blueline more stable.
Baggedmilk:
The decision making in the defensive zone has been tragic so far this year, and a lot of those turnovers are ending up in the back of the net. From my side of the TV screen, it doesn’t look like many guys are committed to defence.
Nov 7, 2022; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft (M) talks to his team during a timeout against the Washington Capitals in the third period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
2) @TylerMulek asks – Why does Manson/Woodcroft insist on benching young players? We don’t have a strong enough top 4 to have guys like Nurse playing 30mins a night. I get sitting Broberg/Bouch for a shift to let them know but it’s costing us games.
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Robin Brownlee:
Nurse hasn’t played 30 minutes in a game this season and has reached 28 just three times, but fair point. I agree he is playing too much. The bottom line is Ken Holland needs to find a defenceman capable of playing top-four minutes so Nurse isn’t overplayed.
Jason Gregor:
In 2021 and 2022 Nurse averaged 25:38 and 25:03 per game. He is at 23:58 this season. He is playing less. Bouchard was benched once and Broberg got banged up and didn’t play. Benchings are very rare, and a non-factor in the team’s overall play. Nurse can be more consistent. He showed it the past two seasons. He has had good games this year, but over the past five games he’s made four glaring errors that led directly to goals. None of them were fatigue related. He is trying to do too much.
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Last year in 38 games with Woodcroft TOI for D-men was: Nurse (23:22), Ceci 20:59, Keith 18:58, Barrie 18:24, Bouchard 17:34 and Kulak 17:05.
This year in 31 games it is Nurse 23:58, Ceci 21:08, Barrie 19:54, Bouchard 18:20, Kulak 17:59 and the #6 Dman (Murray, Broberg, Niemelainen) is around 12 minutes/game.
The biggest difference is Duncan Keith isn’t here. He played 16:26 at EV under Woodcroft. Ryan Murray has played 12:23, Broberg 11:32 and Niemelainen nine minutes. Broberg was injured to start the season, and is knicked up again, while Murray isn’t Keith. They need to find a better LD.
Cam Lewis:
You’d think they would give the young guys some more rope in the first half of the season but the coaching staff doesn’t seem overly comfortable with either player taking on a significant role right now. The Oilers could really use another veteran defenceman right now.
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Tyler Yaremchuk:
Playing any player more than 25 minutes a night is not a way to build a sustainable winner in today’s NHL. They need to ease off playing 97/29/25 as much as they do. Part of the reason they were so successful last season is because the role players felt like they were contributing on a regular basis. That’s not happening anymore.
Baggedmilk:
The depth on defence isn’t good enough and that’s something a lot of us have been saying since the offseason. We need someone else that can come in and take some of the workload off Nurse. If Woodcroft can’t trust his bottom pairing then we need to find players that can fit there that can actually play and contribute.
Oct 7, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Darnell Nurse (25) takes a shot in front of Seattle Kraken forward Daniel Strong (91) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
3) Trey asks – Is Darnell Nurse overthinking his contract or what do you think is going on here? He hasn’t played up to his own standards for portions of this season and that’s a real problem given that he’s the best d-man we have.
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Robin Brownlee:
He plays too much. Players don’t think about their contracts when they’re playing.
Jason Gregor:
I can’t say what he is thinking, and if I asked him, he wouldn’t say it was contract related even if it was. He is simply trying to do too much at times, which gets him out of position, but other times his pass selection is too risky. He needs to simplify his game. Playing time (too much) isn’t a factor. He needs to find the game he had last year when he was excellent down the stretch.
Cam Lewis:
Everyone on the blueline is taking on a little bit more than they should be and Nurse is the one being thrown into a tremendous amount of minutes. He’s under a lot of pressure and having to compensate for the lack of depth on the blueline is taxing.
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Tyler Yaremchuk:
He is absolutely the best defensive man the team has and his play slipping the way it has is a big problem. They desperately need him to consistently go up against the other team’s best players and right now he’s not. I’m not sure if it’s mental, I’m sure it partially is, but they need him to get to the level he was at down the stretch last season because he was very good in the final month of the regular season. They need that version of Darnell Nurse to turn this blueline around.
Baggedmilk:
He’s playing way too much right now, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he’s thinking he has to play up to that deal. We’re all human beings after all.
Apr 19, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson (44) skates with the puck against Minnesota Wild during the third period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
4) Yves asks – There has been a lot of talk about the Oilers pursuing defenders such as Joel Edmundson and John Klingberg, but who does everything think is the better fit based on a style of play and ability?
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Robin Brownlee:
I’d prefer Edmundson if I have to take one of them. Cheaper. Another year left on his contract. More of a defensive guy.
Jason Gregor:
Edmundson is a better fit, but I’m not sold he is the right answer either. He doesn’t move the puck like Keith did. It will be hard to find a D-man who can defend well, but also is a good puck mover. I’d look at Cam Fowler in Anaheim. He has three years remaining on his deal ($6.5m cap hit), so the Ducks would have to retain some salary to make it work. But I’d move Broberg, Puljuarvi (to make salary work this year), a 1st and another pick or prospect to make it happen. Fowler would be a very solid addition.
Cam Lewis:
Edmundson is the better fit because the Oilers have a couple of puck-moving defencemen on the right side already. I would still aim higher, though, especially if the cost of acquisition is as high as people are saying it is. You don’t want to give up what Florida gave up for Ben Chiarot last year, he wasn’t a game-changer for them at all.
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Tyler Yaremchuk:
I like them both but I don’t like acquiring a guy with term. The left side of their blueline next season should be Nurse-Kulak-Broberg and acquiring Edmunson would block Broberg. Klingberg is a UFA at the end of the season, so he would be my pick.
Baggedmilk:
If I had to pick between these two alone, I would probably go with Edmundson because I think the Oilers need a defence-first type of player more than another offensive weapon. We already have Barrie and Bouchard, ya know?
Oct 30, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat (53) checks Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) in the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
5) Ed asks – I see a report that Horvat turned down an 8-year $7M per year deal from the Nucks. Horvat is having a remarkable start, but his career stats are about a 25-goal 60-point player. Trevleving signed a 32-year-old Kadri for a 7-year by $7M contract. Kadri was coming off a career year but has career stats similar to Horvat and will be 39 when the contract ends. Also, Hubby was signed to a $10.5M multi-year contract that starts next year. Hubby was also coming off a career-best year but with career numbers of about 25 goals and 80 points and will be 38 when the contract ends.
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Compare this to some of Holland’s results:
  • RNH – 20 goals 55 points for $ 5.125M until he is 35.
  • Kane – 25 to 30 goals and 60 points for $5.125M until he is 34
  • Hyman-20 to 25 goals, 50 to 60 points $5.5 M until he is 35.
Do recent signings improve your opinion of Holland?
Robin Brownlee:
Holland has long been an astute NHL GM. Latest signings are just more of the same.
Jason Gregor:
Those three were solid signings. Since he arrived Holland has added Kane, Hyman, Ceci, Barrie, Kulak and Keith (for a year). All played in top-10 overall minutes on the team. Solid additions and despite the moaning from many fans about Keith trade, it was a great deal for Edmonton. It is very early, but the Campbell deal hasn’t looked good yet, but, again, it is early. I expect his next 15 games will be better than his start. I’ll be interested to see what Horvat signs for. I’ve heard he is frustrated with the organization (not contract offer) and that is why he might not re-sign.
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Cam Lewis:
Holland has made a handful of good moves and some poor ones, but I would say there’s been more of the former than the latter since he arrived. I have some gripes but I also feel much more confident with Holland than I did with Peter Chiarelli in charge.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
They are definitely three of his big wins. All of those contracts look great and even if they don’t age well, they are all impactful players while McDavid and Draisaitl are in their primes and they’re all under $6m per year against the cap. Holland nailed all three of those negotiations.
Baggedmilk:
The RNH deal is looking like a steal right now but how many of you were saying otherwise last season? Kane deal is highway robbery based on some of the others that got handed out. Hyman is a king and I still don’t understand why the Leafs cared so much about the last years of this deal based on what he’s doing right now.
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